Before you can decide whether or not you need a lawyer, it's important to understand what it is that lawyers do. Unless you've had personal experiences with a lawyer, your image of lawyers may come from popular culture. Most TV shows and movies portray lawyers arguing in court. While there are lawyers who are trial attorneys, lawyers do much more than go to trial. A lawyer can help you with starting a business, tax issues, estate planning, marital issues, and so much more. During an initial consultation, a good attorney can give you an idea if he or she will be able to help you with your legal issue. A lawyer can also give you a list of possible options and courses of actions.
FindLaw's What Lawyers Do section provides articles about how to determine if you need a lawyer and things to think about before you sue a person or a company. You can also find a helpful section that provides a directory to the various legal practice areas that attorneys can choose to focus on.
Requirements for Becoming a Lawyer
A lawyer - also called an attorney or counselor - is a person who provides counsel and legal advice to someone involved in a legal dispute or who is dealing with legal issues. There are various requirements that a person must fulfill in order to become an attorney. First, after receiving an undergraduate degree, the person must go to law school, which involves at least three years of intensive legal education and training. After successfully earning a degree from law school, the person must take and pass the "bar exam" - a rigorous state licensing test. The person must also pass a personal character and moral fitness test. Once all of these requirements are met, the person will be sworn in by the state and/or federal court, making the person officially licensed and ready to practice as an attorney. It's important to note that licensing for an attorney is governed by the state, so you need to check your state's rules to determine the exact requirements to become a lawyer in your state.
A Few Reasons to Hire an Attorney
Not every legal matter requires the assistance of an attorney. Generally, a person who wishes to fight a minor traffic ticket doesn't need an attorney. Another example of when an attorney is not necessary - or even allowed in most jurisdictions - is when you have a case in small claims court. But, there are many other legal matters in which hiring a lawyer would be a good idea.
One situation when it's pretty much always a good idea to hire an attorney is when you've been charged with a crime. Crimes carry various penalties, including fines and possible jail time, as well as a mark on your record. Because of the consequences associated with being convicted of a crime, it's in your best interest to hire an attorney to defend you. And if you can't afford an attorney, you can be assigned a public defender. The fact that you have a constitutional right to a defense attorney in a criminal case should tell that it's in your best interest to hire one when facing criminal charges.
While lawyers generally aren't cheap, having legal assistance while embarking on endeavors with potential legal ramifications - such as starting a business - can save you trouble and money in the future. Lawyers can also be helpful with estate planning, especially if you have a complicated or large estate. It's also typically a good idea to retain an attorney if the other party in a lawsuit or business dealing has an attorney, because not having one yourself usually puts you at a disadvantage. Finally, lawyers often provide a free initial consultation, which can give you the opportunity to speak with the lawyer and help you decide whether or not you actually need to hire a lawyer.